Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Carroll focuses on underage drinking

It's a day Patricia McCollum and Penny Clark will never forget. The sisters were called into a small, cramped hospital room and were told by the coroner that their brother, Lester, was killed in an automobile accident.

Every bone in Lester's body was broken, and it took emergency crews more than two hours to cut him out of his vehicle. The family could not touch Lester's body because it would fall apart due to all the broken bones.

So, all the sisters had left of their brother was a quart-sized, resealable plastic bag that contained his keys, wallet and wedding band.

However, the automobile crash was not by chance. The accident was inevitable because Lester was an alcoholic. He was drinking heavily the last few weeks before he died as he was going through a difficult divorce. This drinking problem led him to show up to work drunk and eventually, the drinking led to his demise as he was driving around intoxicated.

"I have trouble talking about this," McCollum said. "We used to have a lot of fun together. I wish I could say goodbye."

McCollum and Clark hope their brother's death 16 years ago will leave the same impression on young people as it has on them - drinking alcohol and driving do not mix. This was the message the members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving gave on Monday night at the Champions for a Drug-Free Carroll County town hall meeting.

The meeting was put together to address Carroll County's greatest problem - underage drinking. Champions for a Drug-Free Carroll County had a group of medical, legal and student panels to inform the public about what children are not telling their parents and how to help students who might be involved in underage drinking.

"Provide education often and early is what we are trying to do tonight," Carroll County High School student Hayley Franklin said.

In Carroll County, 32 percent of senior high school students reported participating in binge drinking. Binge drinking is where five or more alcoholic beverages are consumed in a short amount of time.

"A lot of people say they are bored," Franklin said.

Likewise, students in Kenton County, which is near Cincinnati, share the same statistics as Carroll County students when it comes to drunkenness and binge drinking.

"Most kids know where to get it," said Amy Webber of North Key. "This isn't an isolated Carroll County issue."

Logan Barr, a member of Carroll County High School's Students Against Destructive Decisions club, said 99 percent of students know where to access alcohol, if they wanted it.

"A lot of us don't think of alcohol as a drug, but it is a drug," Dr. Samer Hussein said.

Hussein said alcohol will impair one's judgment, can cause malnutrition and dementia after long-term use and affects all the organs of the body.

"You don't make proper judgments," Hussein said.

Hussein said the best way to curb underage drinking is to inform the children. He said parents need to expose their children to the problem.

"You just can't isolate them," Hussein said. "Alcohol is everywhere."

Webber said students need to know they have adults who care about them. Whether parents think their children know they care or not, children need to be told that they are cared about.

"You can go home," Webber said about students who are intoxicated. "As a friend, the best thing you can do is keep someone safe."

At home, parents need to know that they can be held legally responsible if they decide to provide their child and their child's friends with alcohol. Adults can be charged with neglect, endangering the welfare of a minor and unlawful transaction with a minor on a criminal level, if they provide alcohol to minors.

This does not include the civil lawsuit that might happen if an adult provides alcohol to a minor, the minor drives intoxicated and the minor is involved in an automobile accident.

"It gives parents a false sense of control," Webber said. "Parents who allow their children to drink at home are more likely to have a child become an alcoholic."

Carrollton Police Chief Michael Wilhoite said parents who know other adults are providing children alcohol can report the activity to police. However, the police need to have physical proof of the incident.

"We want to put an end to it," Wilhoite said.

"We're trying to tackle this head-on," said Nick Marsh, assistant county and city attorney. "We're there trying to help your child."

Parents can find help for their children through the court system without having to have their child face a judge. Court Designated Worker Amanda Caldwell said 80 percent of the juveniles she works with never go in front of a judge.

"We want you to hold your child accountable," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said parents can have their child evaluated in a mental hospital to see if their child has an alcohol or substance abuse problem. Parents can even file charges against their child through a court diversion program. Caldwell said she can work with parents to have their child follow strict behavioral guidelines.

"Not every child goes to court," Caldwell said.

However, some children do wind up in the juvenile court system.

"Every year, it's getting younger and younger," 15th District Judge Elizabeth Lester said. "Kids have more to do than ever before."

Lester said children are more than ever overstimulated by the world around them, and the overstimulation brings on boredom. She said one day, it will be alcohol, and the next day, because they are bored, it will become meth or worse.

"As a judge, I'm beginning to see the problem," Lester said. "(Juveniles) see adults as hypocrites and phonies. You all are ultimately the answer. We're just Band-Aids."

source: Madison Courier

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